A sweeping piece on the risks of viewing the current arrangement in the global order as a stable, inevitable arrangement. The article by Charles Emmerson at Chatham House mentions the risk of a war starting in the South China Sea, although the situation in the East China Sea holds the same risks. The interesting point of this essay is the role of technology in creating the delusion that this period of history is different. There is a folly to this notion that an interconnected world makes full-scale war impossible. Think of the online lynch mobs, or trial by media, then apply it to whole nations. We just haven’t tried war with this technology yet. Social media is just a new way for those angry crowds to form. As a Pakistani friend once told me about the Internet: “It spreads poison.”
You think that globalization is destined to continue forever, that interstate war is impossible, and that the onward march of democracy is ineluctable? Hang on a second; isn’t that what people thought in 1913?
He notes that risks of a conflict are higher now than 10 years ago, while the future of globalization is unsure. But the period of unbridled economic globalization is already ending, I’d say. The Japanese and Chinese governments don’t want to spoil their trade relationship. But can they put the genie back in the bottle now?
There is nothing inevitable about future conflict between the great powers and there is nothing foretold about the collapse of global trade — though I would argue that both are substantially more likely now than 10 years ago. But looking at the world of 1913 reminds us that there is nothing immutable about the continuity of globalization either, and certainly nothing immutable about the Western-oriented globalization of the last few decades….
He notes that the chance of a collapse in global trade is higher now than a decade ago.
…over the last few years, the world has witnessed a rise in trade protection, a breakdown in global trade negotiations, totally inadequate progress on global climate discussions, and moves to fragment the Internet. There is a corrosive and self-fulfilling sense that the dominance of the West — as the world’s rule-maker and pace-setter — is over.
The fearful perception that the West is in decline while an empowered nation in East Asia may desire to “have a crack” at some sort of dominance, if even just regional, are huge macro-risks. A risk on top of that is the passing from the scene of the veterans of World War II, the men and women who in their bones could not allow it to happen again. That said, so far there hasn’t been a surge in trade protectionism. Until the recent Japan-China island spat, most of what we have seen is protectionism was at the margins, with only a marginal increase of trade disputes. We all just survived the Mayan Apocalypse, possibly we’ll survive this 1913-redux scare too. The prospect of a simmering multi-polar Cold War, which is probably already happening, remains preferable to WWIII.